Editor’s Note: The following is an article from RVIA Today Express outlining a proposed “right to repair” initiative in Massachusetts aimed at the auto sector that, if passed, could pose a threat for the RV industry.

For nearly a decade, independent car repair shops have battled unsuccessfully in state capitals and the halls of Congress to gain 24-hour a day, 7-day a week access to the same data, parts, and repair schematics that car manufacturers provide to their franchised car dealers.

Nowhere has this battle raged hotter than in Massachusetts where car manufacturers and dealers have been trying to reach a legislative accommodation with independent repair shops for six years. Frustrated by their inability to achieve a legislative compromise acceptable to all parties, Massachusetts independent repair shops have decided to pursue a ballot initiative to achieve their goals that would not only create many unintended consequences for the RV industry, it could make it impossible to sell RVs in Massachusetts should the initiative pass as drafted. Worst of all, the language of the initiative is unamendable.

The ballot initiative would prohibit any motor vehicle manufacturer (the definition of ‘motor vehicle’ in Massachusetts includes both motorhomes and RV trailers), starting with model year 2015, from selling a new motor vehicle in Massachusetts without allowing the owner, or the owner’s designated in-state independent repair facility, to obtain diagnostic and repair information electronically on an hourly, daily, monthly, or yearly subscription basis. Worse, the manufacturer would have to provide access to the information through a non-proprietary vehicle interface, using the SAE J2534 standard applied in federal emissions-control regulations for light duty vehicles.

“The proposed ballot initiative affects an issue that is very complex just within the car industry. But its application to all motor vehicles, including RVs, is a classic case of attempting to drive a square peg into variously-shaped holes,” said Matt Wald, director of government affairs for the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA). “Further, it will lead to unintended consequences and irreconcilable issues for the RV industry.”

On March 21, Wald explained the potential threat that these unintended consequences pose to the RV industry in testimony before a joint Massachusetts Senate/House hearing on the Massachusetts Right to Repair ballot initiative. He highlighted the five concerns the RV industry has with regard to the initiative:

Definition of ‘Motor Vehicle’

Fundamental in terms of ambiguity with regard to the RV industry, the proposal lacks a satisfactory specific definition of or reference to a definition of ‘motor vehicle.’ As drafted, this would leave both motorhomes as well as towable RVs subject to this law. RVIA is seeking the exclusion of RVs from the types of motor vehicles meant to be included under this potential law.

Multi-Stage Built Vehicles

With regard to motorhomes, their unique method of manufacture is simply not contemplated by the proposal. The ballot initiative assumes that all motor vehicles are produced in a vertically-integrated manufacturing process. Because of the various manufacturing methods used in assembling chassis components and then building an RV on top of that assembly, vertically integrated chassis and RV final stage manufacture are not the norm in the RV industry. The ballot initiative does not account for this difference, making the proposal unworkable for the RV industry.

RV Manufacturers Do Not Control Access to RV Emissions Systems and Data

Given this unique method of manufacture, in the RV industry it is the RV engine supplier, not the RV manufacturer, that is legally responsible for certification and compliance, as well as repairs (both warranty and otherwise), for emissions-related as well as other drive train matters. So it is the engine supplier that controls the emissions and repair systems for the drive train. RV engine and drive train suppliers certify RV engine, chassis and transmission repair facilities and provide repair data, not RV manufacturers. For the RV manufacturer, this is not a question of not wanting to comply with the data and systems access provisions of the proposed initiative or finding compliance difficult. It is literally impossible for an RV manufacturer to comply with the requirement for the provision of data and access to systems over which the RV manufacturer itself has no control.

Focus on the SAE J2534 Standard

Another significant problem with the proposal as it relates to RVs is its focus on requiring the use of SAE J2534 for on board diagnostic (OBD) information on all motor vehicles. J2534 is a light duty vehicle standard for delivery of emissions information not used in medium and heavy duty chassis component systems that many RVs are built on, including components built by RV manufacturers. As drafted, the proposal creates irreconcilable standards and ambiguity with regard to the non-J2534 medium and heavy duty systems used in RVs. Meanwhile, the application of this proposal to towable RVs is nonsensical, as towables don’t even have emissions systems through which to coordinate the use of the J2534 standard to deliver OBD information. So it is impossible for a towable manufacturer to apply the J2534 standard to their ‘motor vehicles’ sold in the state.

RV OBD Systems not Related to the Drive Train

RVs contain household-like systems with OBD not contemplated in automobiles such as waste tank systems, kitchen appliances and propane systems. It is not clear from the proposal whether such systems would fall under the requirement to enable the owner or independent repair facility the capability to utilize such systems via the worldwide web. If it did, that would require massive investments of new technology in those OBD systems.

“This proposed initiative is an imprecise, overly broad proposal that fails to take into account the significant differences among manufacturing, distribution and repair of motor vehicle types other than cars, creating unacceptable ambiguities and unintended consequences for the RV industry,” said Wald. “If it is approved as drafted in November, there is a distinct possibility that RV manufacturers may no longer be able to sell RVs in Massachusetts starting with model year 2015. That is an unintended consequence that must be avoided”

RVIA is strongly opposing this proposed ballot initiative as drafted and strongly recommending that the legislative process for deciding these issues move forward, and that in that process the legislature exempt RVs from the final law.

The car manufacturers, dealers and independent repair shops have until late June to hammer out a legislative compromise. If they fail then this ballot initiative will go before the voters of Massachusetts as drafted, where opinion polls indicate that it could pass by a wide margin.